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双语:Why are people so mean to single people?

2012-11-22  云卷云舒漫

Why are people so mean to single people?

Viewpoint: Why are couples so mean to single people?

In a world that celebrates romance and finding The One, people can be rather rude to single people, writes James Friel.

No-one is supposed to be single.

In the course of my life, I have loved and lost and sometimes won, and always strangers have been kind. But I have, it appears, been set on a life of single blessedness.

And I haven't minded. Or rather, I realise, I haven't minded enough. But now I kind of do. Take dinner parties. There comes a moment, and that question: "Why don't you have a partner?"

It is usually asked by one of a couple, with always a swivel of the eye to his or her other half, so really two people are asking this question.

And I struggle to answer: "I have never found the right person... I am a sad and sorry manchild... I am incapable of love... I am a deviant, and prefer giraffes."

Any answer will fail to satisfy. The questioner expects no happy answer. I am only covering up my bone-deep, life-corroding loneliness. The questioners know this, and the insight they believe it affords comforts them. They are safe.

They look down from the high castle of coupledom, protected from such a fate. But if I were to ask: "Why have you settled for him? Why are you stuck with her? Were you so afraid of being alone?" such questions would be thought rude, intrusive.

Last week a friend of mine went on a date. A foolish thing to do. The man she met had been married three times and had a child by each wife. An example of emotional continence I'm sure you'll agree. And he asked my friend, single and childless, why she had failed at life.

It was a shortish date. Failed at life?

Single people can also feel this way about other single people, and about themselves. You see, no one is supposed to be single. If we are, we must account for our deficiencies.

A recent book claims on its cover that single people might be the most reviled sexual minority today. But it's not just today.

Take the word "spinster". It is withering and unkind. The word, of course, is innocent, but its connotations are unhappy, dismissive and disrespectful.

A few years back, in an age of Bridget Jones-type heroines, the novelist Carol Clewlow wondered about a female reader of her own generation, a woman who had long decided not to twin her destiny with another's. She wrote a novel about this single state. About spinsters.

She called it Spinsta.

She delivered Spinsta to her agent, who was delighted, as were her publishers. A campaign was initiated. Various columnists and celebrities were to be asked to consider and celebrate this word, but then another word came back from the booksellers.

That word was "no". They would not stock and no one would pick up a book with such an ugly word as its title. The novel was retitled Not Married, Not Bothered.

When I speak of this subject with women, the conversation, the anecdotes, are plentiful, wry and amusing.

With other men, gay or straight, the talk is more wistful, hesitant, inconclusive, and even a little pained.

Legal now, the gay man must also account for not having a partner. We even agitate for marriage. To be recognised as couples not just by the law - which is right - but by God, which is redundant. But couples rely on such iron definitions, need them.

Someone might take them to be single, and no one is supposed to be single. And yet I am. Carol Clewlow described me as a male spinster. I admit I was a little bothered until she added "like George Clooney".

Cool, I thought. I could go with that. But Google "male spinster" and there is much bother at the term. Top of the search list is an unreasonably popular piece from London's Evening Standard.

It reads: "A male spinster is an unmarried man over the age of 35, a moniker that implies at best these men have 'issues' and at worst are sociopaths. One fears for these men, just as society has traditionally feared for the single women. They cannot see how lonely they will be."

How kind this fear sounds. No-one is supposed to be single. To be single must mean to be lonely but far lonelier are those who fear being alone.

Namely, the "I" who is incomplete without a "you". The "me" who is without substance or purpose unless rhymed with a "we". Those tyrannised by the need, the obligation, to go about this world in pairs.

In order to argue for the single person, it seems one must criticise the couple; the culture that coerces us into coupledom, the religions, the familial pressures, the pop songs, the movies, the game shows, the gossip, the unavoidable, inescapable pressure to conjoin, to love.

Freud has it that we become ill if we do not love, and songs tell us we must succumb to a love that - bonding us - will devastate us too. I am nothing, nothing, nothing, if I don't have you. How kind is such a love? Isn't it a little punitive?

Laura Kipnis, in Against Love, has a chapter called Domestic Gulag, and the prison rules a couple must follow:

You can't leave the house without saying where you are going

You can't not say what time you will return

You can't leave the bathroom door open - it's offensive

You can't leave the bathroom door closed

You can't have secrets

Nine and half pages later, Kipnis concludes: "The specifics don't matter. What matters is the operative word, can't. Thus is love obtained."

And Michael Cobb reminds us in a book called Single that Plato defined love as our name for the pursuit of the whole, our desire to be made complete. But Plato has Aristophanes remind us that this pursuit - this need to be completed, this quest for coupledom - is a punishment.

Perhaps single people secretly wish to reclaim an original state of being, somehow sense that we do not need to be completed by another, somehow sense that we are able to complete ourselves. The single person might just be too self-possessed.

Perhaps we are too honest to be coupled. Perhaps we cannot tell another person: "I love only you. And I will love you forever."

It's quite difficult to tell someone the more truthful: "I love you, you know, for now."

Sorry. The single person might just be too self-possessed.

Personally, I don't wish to make satiric judgements against the couple because such judgements - patronising, dismissive and even fearful - are what I resent when asked to explain why I persist in being single.

I want to describe myself more positively and not against some grain that abrades both me and anyone else who believes and lives differently.

My favourite character in literature is the difficult, unclubbable Lucy Snowe from Charlotte Bronte's Villette. At the conclusion of her slippery and singular tale, she manages in her lone voice to define herself as wife, widow and spinster all at once and so none of these at all but - simply, complicatedly - her own marvellous, darkly brave and tricksy self.

And I would rescue, too, that martyr, the maligned Miss Havisham. Because I don't believe the single person has a sceptical or reductive notion of love but suspect, rather, that they might be compelled by an even higher, almost unrealisable, conception of it.

In the world through which we move, increasingly, we do not expect our relationships to endure. Increasingly, our relative affluence and advances in new technology allow us to live comfortably alone.

Increasingly, this is what we seem to be doing: we are choosing to live alone. We need stories not about how to become couples. They are legion. We need stories about how to be single, and how to be kept amazed and awake by a joy of our own manufacture.

Although I was born single, I never considered that this would continue to be my fate.

This piece is based on an edited version of James Friel's Four Thought on BBC Radio 4. Listen again via the Radio 4 website or Four Thought podcast.

为什么人们对单身的人那么苛刻?

    詹姆斯弗里尔写道:“在这个热衷于浪漫和疯狂寻觅另一半的世界里,人们对单身的人相当的粗鲁”。

    没有谁预想自己是要单身一辈子的。在我的人生旅途中,我曾爱过,失去过,也成功过,周围的陌生人也很和善。这很明显,我已经享受了单身生活的安宁无忧。我也从来没有介意过。或者是,我意识到,我不是特别介意。但是现在我开始介意了。去参加晚宴,总有那么一些时刻或是那类问题:“为什么你没有同伴?”这经常被夫妻中的一人问及,然后伴随着对他/她另一半的眼神的转换。所以事实上,是两人都在问这个问题。我会试图这样回答:“我还没有找到合适的人,我是一个伤心难过的男孩子,我还不能去爱,我是一个离经叛道的人,喜欢长颈鹿。”

    没有任何回答可以满足他们。发问者不希望听到“单身也很快乐”这样的回答,那仅仅是在遮掩那些深入骨髓的,侵蚀生命的孤独感。提问者知道这个,在内心深处,他们认为这样可以慰藉他们,起码他们是安全的。他们从高高的两人城堡里向下俯瞰,他们庆幸自己免于遭受这种单身命运。但是假设我这样问:“为什么你选定了他?为什么你又会情定与她?你就这么害怕害怕独自一人吗?”这类问题会被认为是粗鲁的,攻击性的。

    上一周,我的一个朋友去相亲,这真是一件蠢事。她见的那个男人已经结过三次婚,并且与每一任妻子都生一个孩子。他问我的这个朋友:你单身而且没有孩子,为什么人生如此失败?这是一个短命的约会。单身很失败吗?单身的人也会觉得其他单身的人甚至他们自己活得很失败。你知道的,没有人打算单身一辈子的。如果我们有这打算,我们必须得查明自身的问题了。

    近来在一本书的封面上,公然宣称现如今单身的人可能是最令人痛恨的性少数派,但这种事不仅仅发生在现代。想想“老处女”这个词吧,它是如此令人难堪,如此地不和善。当然这个词本身是无辜的,但它的言外之意则代表了不幸、鄙视和不尊重。倒退几年,在《BJ单身日记》式的女英雄时代,小说家卡罗尔想弄懂她那一代的一个女读者,一个决定不把她的命运与他人连在一块的女性。她就把这种单身状态写成一部小说,关于老处女的。她为书起名‘老处女’。卡罗尔把她的作品交给代理商,代理商非常高兴。一场商业活动开始了。主办方邀请来了许多专栏作家和名人,来琢磨和赞美这个词。但是之后,另一词从书商那传来。这个词是“不”。他们不会购买把这么难听的词作为书名的书,没有人愿意买这种书。这部小说被重新命名为“未结婚,不烦忧”。

    当我与妇女谈及此事时,谈及这种奇闻异事时,谈话多是扭曲且使人发笑的。而和其他的男人,不论是直是弯,这个话题更令人忧郁、犹豫不决的,甚至有点痛苦。法律规定,同性恋者不能有伴侣。我们甚至会为同志婚姻的事情感到激动。被认定为夫妻不仅仅需要法律认可——这是正确的,还要被上帝认可——这看似是多余的。但是夫妻依赖这种钢铁一样的定义,需要它们。

    有人可能会愿意单身,但没有谁本来就注定单身。现在我仍是单身。卡罗尔形容我为老处男。我承认我有点烦躁,直到她加上一句“就像乔治?克鲁尼”。好的,这我可以接受。但是如果搜索“老处男”这个词,就会有许多烦忧意味。在搜索清单的最上面,是一个非常热门的文章,来自《伦敦夜标报》:

    老处男是35岁以上未结婚的男人,这个绰号,好一点来说,暗示了这些男人有问题;糟糕一点来说,暗示了这些男人是反社会的人。对于这些人的恐惧,正如社会上传统地惧怕单身妇女一样。人们不明白他们有多孤独。”

    这种恐惧听起来多么和善。没有谁本来就注定单身。单身意味着孤独,并且那些害怕孤独的人会感到更孤独。也就是说,‘我’是不完整的,如果没有‘你’。这种需要与责任对单身者进行批斗,要求他们成对地去了解这个世界上。要为单身的人说话,就必须批评那些成对的人;社会文化强迫我们步入成对状态。宗教、家族的压力、流行歌曲、电影、游戏节目、闲聊……不可避免、无法逃避的压力促使我们去结合,去爱。

    弗洛伊德曾说:如果我们没有爱,将会病倒。并且歌曲也告诉我们,我们必须屈服于爱,它粘接我们,也将摧毁我们。我什么也不是,如果没有你。这是怎样的一种爱啊?这不是带有惩罚性吗?

    在劳拉基普尼斯的《反对爱》中,有一章叫《家庭中的古拉格》,这种监狱规定一对夫妇必须遵循:

    你不能一声不响地离开家,不说一声你去哪。

    你不能不说你归家的时间。

    你不能让浴室的门开着,那是令人不快的。

    你不能把浴室的门紧闭。

    你不能有秘密。

    写了九章半之后,基普尼斯总结到:“一些细节没关系。重要的是有效的词‘不能’。如此就是爱情使我们得到的。”麦克·柯波在《单身》中提醒我们,柏拉图对爱的解释是:爱是我们一生要追求的,是我们想要完整的愿望。但是柏拉图让阿里斯托芬警告我们,这种追求、对完整的需求、对伴侣的寻求——是一种惩罚。

    也许单身之人偷偷想回到存在的本原状态之中,不知何故意识到,我们不需要另一个人来填补自己,我们自己就能够使自己完整。单身的人可能只是太重视自我。也许我们太诚实,无法结合。也许我们无法对他人说:“我爱你。我会永远爱你。 ”告诉他人实话则更困难:“我爱你,你知道的,只是现在。“抱歉。单身的人可能只是太重视自我。

    就我个人而言,我不愿意嘲讽成对的夫妇、情侣,因为这样要人领情的、不屑一顾,甚至令人害怕的判断,正是他人要我解释为何单身时,我最反感的。我想更积极地描述自己,而不是把自己塑造成一个反抗常规,伤害自己又伤害那些有不同信仰和生活态度的人。文学作品中,我最喜欢的一个人物是夏洛蒂·勃朗特《维莱特》中的露西·斯诺。在她不同常人的故事中,露西想把自己描述成一位妻子、遗孀和老处女的混合体,但她一个都不是,就是她自己,阴郁而勇敢狡猾的自己。

    在这个世界中,我们的变化越来越多,我们不期望一段关系能够持久。科技越来越先进,生活越来越富富足,这允许我们享受单身的舒适。这也是我们正在做的:越来越多的人在选择过一种单身的生活。我们需要故事,但却不是关于如何喜结连理的,这样的故事太多了。我们需要知道怎样成为单身,怎样对我们自身保持惊奇或清醒的态度。尽管我出生时是孤单一人,但我从不认为单身会成为我永远的命运。

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